Anti-Sweatshop Crusader Charles Kernaghan, 74

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tags: labor, labor history, free trade, Sweatshops

Charles Kernaghan, a labor activist who helped revitalize the anti-sweatshop movement in the late 20th century, targeting American companies such as Disney — as well as a clothing line backed by Kathie Lee Gifford — while waging a dogged campaign to expose mistreatment at overseas factories, died June 1 at his home in Manhattan. He was 74.

His sister, Maryellen Kernaghan, confirmed the death but did not give a cause.

For two decades, Mr. Kernaghan spearheaded a string of highly publicized campaigns against child labor, corporate greed and sweatshop conditions, taking on companies including Nike, Target and Walmart. Using video footage and worker testimonials, he revealed dismal conditions at factories in Central America, China, Bangladesh and Jordan, where workers were subjugated to physical abuse and often labored for a few cents an hour.

Apparel industry executives questioned his facts and branded him a relentless self-promoter. But his work was credited with spurring workplace reforms including improved wages, ventilation and access to factory bathrooms, and was backed in some cases by independent human rights monitors who sought to ensure safe conditions.

With his wire-rimmed glasses, carefully trimmed beard and slicked-back silver hair, Mr. Kernaghan could have passed for an academic — indeed, he had once pursued a PhD in psychology and anthropology. But he was also a gifted athlete, a former boxer and high school football star who gave off a fidgety energy while talking nonstop to audiences at union halls, college auditoriums and houses of worship.

Reaching into a bag of clothes during a speech, he would display a Walmart shirt made by Vietnamese women who were allegedly beaten at a factory in American Samoa, or would hold up a Nike jersey that retailed for $140 in the United States but was made for 29 cents in El Salvador. “There is blood on this garment” he would shout, with an almost religious intensity.

Read entire article at Washington Post